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What Were You Thinking?

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Xander: As long as nothing really bad happens between now and then, you'll be fine.
Buffy: Are you crazy? What did you say that for? Now something bad is gonna happen.
Xander: What do you mean? Nothing's gonna happen.
Willow: Not until some dummy says, "As long as nothing bad happens."
Buffy: It's the ultimate jinx!
Willow: What were you thinking?! Or were you even thinking at all?
Xander: You don't know... Maybe this time it'll be different...
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "School Hard"

The inevitable question asked when another character's rash plan or reckless behavior results in disaster or near-disaster. Asked upon discovery of the mayhem caused by said recklessness, or after picking up the pieces, and is usually asked by their superior, a concerned parent, or simply a friend or ally.

Popular answers include "I wasn't!", "I don't know!", "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time!", and "I Did What I Had to Do." If someone answers "For Science!", it's a good bet that he's either a lost cause or a very Mad Scientist.

Can follow a My God, What Have I Done? for a Kick the Dog moment. A Deal with the Devil is almost always followed by this, if only from the audience. Not to be confused with What the Hell, Hero?, which has less to do with recklessness and more to do with kicking or shooting the dog, though it can overlap. If someone is asking himself (or herself) this, it's Didn't Think This Through.


Compare Flat "What", What the Hell, Hero? and What Did You Expect When You Named It ____? — where this either gets said verbatim as an addendum or is simply loomingly implicit.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Full Metal Panic!, Kaname tends to yell this whenever Sousuke does something insane. More often than not, he proceeds to explain the ridiculously complicated terrorist plot that he foiled to justify his actions. Sometimes the plot is even real.
  • Yuna Roma Seiran gets this from the ORB military officers in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, for hiding war criminal Lord Djibril in ORB and denying it, then acting all surprised when ZAFT sees through his obvious lies and invades in full force. Apparently, he thought that since ORB had successfully hidden the Archangel from them two years ago, but not even in anime do politics bend to the Rule of Cool...
  • These exact words are used in Ranma ½ when the Tendos, particularly Kasumi, call Genma out for taking his son to the cursed training ground of Jusenkyo. To the annoyance of some readers, though, this is only in the very first chapter of the manga, and nobody so much as raises an eyebrow when Genma later reveals he taught Ranma the Nekoken because he was too lazy to read the next page, which warned that the technique invariably drove trainees insane and was too stupid to use, anyway. Although, it's entirely possible that people stopped asking this of him because they realized it just wouldn't do any damned good.
  • In Saiyuki's "Kami-sama" arc, Sanzo attempts to break a barrier that he thought was created by will power by shooting at it, on the "rationale" that the bullets are infused with his will power, and thus the two will cancel out...yeah, no. Instead, the bullets ricochet back and everyone dives for cover, with Hakkai yelling, "What are you DOING, Sanzo??"

    Comic Books 
  • From the Star Wars: Clone Wars comics, during the battle of Kamino:
    Commander Merai: What were they thinking, defending a water world with ships that can't submerge?

    Comic Strips 
  • Zits has Mom convey an expression that says this phrase without using words to react to Jeremy's antics. Likely she doesn't say it because Jeremy will likely react with some quip.
    Mom: What were you thinking!
    Jeremy: Everything's cause-and-effect with you, isn't it.

    Fan Works 
  • In the first story of the Facing the Future Series, Danny says this to Sam after he learned she duplicated his accident to get herself ghost powers. However, Sam counters that it was her choice to make.
  • In Frozen Hearts, Elsa asks this of Anna after she introduces her to a disguised, albeit repentant, Hans, and gets upset enough to temporarily lose control of her powers.
  • In an untitled Homestuck fic, this is Eridan's reaction to finding out that The Little Mermaid is Feferi's favourite movie. note 
  • The Karma of Lies: The Agreste family lawyer asks Adrien this after learning how he waived his right to have him present while being interviewed by the police. Adrien wrongly assumed that if he simply told the full truth about Lila, he'd be completely believed. Instead, the police found his testimony highly questionable — in no small part because he blithely claimed to have known that she was a Con Artist the whole time and still let her scam his friends and classmates for months.
  • In Mega Man Star Network, Chaud asks Lan this when he went to Wilshire Hills to go after Cain without contacting him.
  • In Opening Dangerous Gates, upon learning that Lucy has no idea what the Arrancar are, Grimmjow points out the foolishness of summoning something you know nothing about.
  • In a sidestory of Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Hoenn Elite Four Drake calls his grandniece Michelle with this line, after she and her friends attempt to fight Hunter J by themselves, and could have gotten killed had he not arrived in time to save them.
  • In Shadows: The Horror Movie Heroes, Recovery Girl asks All Might this after his sketchy behaviour at Dagobah Beach gets him pepper-sprayed by Jirou.
  • In the Super RWBY Sisters story RWBY Partners in Time King Dedede asks this question to the heroes upon discovering that Mario and the rest of the group had rebuild the Cobalt Star which released Elder Princess Shroob. Seeing as he and Kirby have experience in accidentally releasing ancient evils it seems justified.
  • In Time and Again, Naruto quotes the trope verbatim when, after having it finally spelled out for him that Hinata is in love with him, he realises that in the Bad Future he came back from she'd been in love with him all along as well, but had never told him, even when he would have happily married her himself to save her from the loveless marriage to an abusive asshole that had been arranged for her.
  • In Villain: Redux, upon learning that Buttercup is the one who committed the prison break after seeing the footage on television and recognizing her as being "the Alien" — she used a Halloween mask gifted to her by Sophia, his ward who Buttercup often babysits, as a disguise — Ace reprimands her for not thinking it through. Since she was seen talking at length to Arturo on the security cams, the police and other Powerpuffs think he helped plan it and are searching the most intensely for him. On top of that, should the authorities learn Ace is harboring the Gangreen Gang, then he'll also be sent to the Villain Ward, meaning Sophia would have to go into foster care. Buttercup assures him and Arturo that such a thing will never happen, and the two resign themselves to Buttercup being too naïve to fully understand the consequences of what she's done, ultimately deciding that the best thing to do would be to sneak out of town when the situation worsens.

    Films — Animation 
  • In the feature film adaptation of Shane Acker's 9, 7 asks 9 this after 9 put the talisman into the machine, causing it to wake up and kill 2.
  • Big Hero 6 has this part after Hiro's big brother Tadashi helps him get out of a nasty incident.
    Tadashi: Are you okay?
    Hiro: Yeah.
    Tadashi: Then what were you thinking, you knucklehead?!
  • Happy Feet: Gloria asks a version of this after she discovers that him singing to her at the mating season is really him lip-synching and letting someone else sing (Mumble can't sing).
    Gloria: Mumble, what could you possibly be thinking?
    Mumble: I...I don't know what else to do!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The captain asks Cool Hand Luke what he thought defacing parking meters would get him. Luke replies that, being drunk at the time, he probably wasn't thinking.
  • In The Dark Knight, Lucius Fox meets with Coleman Reese, who says that he's figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and wants $10 million a year for the rest of his life to stay quiet.
    "Let Me Get This Straight...: You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands. And your plan is to blackmail this person? Good luck."
  • The Fast and the Furious: Dominic Toretto asks this of Jesse after he races Johnny Tran for pink slips.
  • In The Goonies, Stef barks this at Andy when she hits the wrong notes on the musical lock, causing part of the floor to collapse.
    Stef: What were you thinking?
    Andy: I hit the wrong note! I'm not Liberace, you know!
  • In Oh God! You Devil, when Bobby literally finds God near the end of the film, the Almighty agrees to help him out of the predicament he's in, but not without giving Bobby a (for God) gentle rebuke.
    God: You made a Deal with the Devil. How dumb could you be?
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the Sovereign pursue the Guardians because Rocket stole some of their batteries
    Peter: What were you thinking?!
    Rocket: Dude, they were really easy to steal.
    Gamora: That's your defense?!
  • Reverend Mother asks it word for word in Sister Act in response to Deloris/Mary Clarence turning the choir into a girl group act.

  • Zoe Heller's novel Notes on a Scandal (later made into a film of the same name) was released under the (patently absurd, given the novel's tone) title of What Was She Thinking? Notes On a Scandal in the US.
  • In Warrior Cats: A Vision Of Shadows, after Onestar explains the connection between him and Darktail, the she-cats seem to get the gist of where his story's going.
    Rowanstar: What was the mouse-brain thinking?
    Mistystar: Obviously, he wasn't thinking.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lampshaded In America's Funniest Home Videos during the Daisy Fuentes season, where she gives a little speech about the three primary audience reactions: "hahahaha", "owwwww..." and "what were they thinking?"
  • Late in the Band of Brothers miniseries, Easy Company passes some surrendering Germans traveling in the other direction, troops marching and officers on wagons. Webster leans out of a troop transport and starts berating them: "You stupid bastards, look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking?!" For added irony, they are on the autobahn. The Americans in trucks on the road, the Germans walking the other way in the median.
  • Used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, see the page quote.
  • A sad example occurs in Call the Midwife: after several attacks on women in the neighborhood, the midwives are told to travel in groups. Sister Mary Cynthia is separated from her partner and tries to walk home alone. After she's jumped, a heartbroken Sister Julienne asks this trope.
  • In the pilot episode of Corner Gas, Oscar does this when he sees Brent do some changes to the gas station, namely the introduction of video rentals. Oscar does not take this well.
    Oscar: What, are you in show business now? The gas business not good enough for you? You've gotta be Ed Sullivan? [imitates Ed Sullivan] "We've got a great shoooo! We've got a really big shoooo!" What the hell are you thinking?
    Brent: I'm thinking your Ed Sullivan needs work.
  • ER. Carol to Doug when he shows up at her apartment drunk, uninvited and unannounced, disrupting her romantic evening with her boyfriend.
  • Used in an episode of Everybody Hates Chris, in which Julius is laid off and has to take care of the house, cooking, and cleaning while Rochelle tries to find a job. After being insulted by Rochelle for most of the episode, Julius makes the mistake of saying that taking care of the house, which Rochelle usually does, isn't that hard. Cue Rochelle, who is known for cursing people out, launching a positively horrifying hour-long tirade that had Julius cowering in the corner, ending with Rochelle yelling "HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!??!"
  • Used verbatim in FlashForward, regarding Mark Benford's actions in the last episode.
  • The Full House episode "Comet's Excellent Adventure" raises this question twice after the part about Jesse giving Michelle to walk Comet by herself, which leads to Comet running away and becoming missing, is revealed.
  • A lot of people screamed this at Mohinder from Heroes when he injected himself with a Super Serum he'd invented mere hours ago from studying a woman who cries death, while outside in a bad part of town. And also wanted to distribute it to the general public, despite the fact that a remarkable proportion of those with powers kill people a lot or even try to destroy the world.
  • Jay Leno famously asked Hugh Grant after the latter's sex scandal: "What the hell were you thinking?" Denis Leary said the same thing about Marv Albert's scandal in his stand-up special, Lock and Load.
  • Law & Order Adam Schiff does this to Jack McCoy when he cuts a very favorable deal for a mob hit man in "House Counsel" because he wants to beat the mobster's attorney, who happens to be an intense rival of McCoy's from law school.
    Schiff: What are we running here, Benny's Bargain Basement? Today's special - cop to four murders, and serve only five years.
    McCoy: I didn't think—
    Schiff: You didn't think because the blood was too busy rushing from your brain to somewhere south of the border!
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • Elliot Stabler frequently hears this: when he drove a paranoid-schizophrenic to a breakdown to get information, when he tried to convince the parents of a girl beaten up by his friend's son not to testify, when he made his daughter's DUI disappear, the infamous "What possessed you to tell the shrink in your psych evaluation that you fantasized about killing suspects?!" Or the time when he told the father of a murdered girl that the Suspect might get away with it...
    • Captain Cragen also said this to Olivia Benson when she gave a reporter confidential information about an investigation involving Anthrax.
    • Fin Tutuola heard this from John Munch and his ex-wife in the episode when he handled a case against his son poorly.
  • Used in The League of Gentlemen when a minor member of a gentleman's club of... purveyors of Special Stuff (which makes even human flesh seem upstanding and moral) run by Hilary Briss decides to bring his wife to a secret meeting:
    Briss Right... now we're all finally convened. As my special customers, you'’re no doubt aw...
    [Maurice's wife enters]
    Eunice Hiya, I was just parking the car.
    Briss Right, Eunice! An unexpected pleasure! Sam, would you like to get Eunice a drink?... Maurice... do you have a moment?
    [Briss leads him to one side]
    Briss Are you out of your fucking mind?
  • Pops up in Mystery Science Theater 3000 on occasion, such as Joel to Crow for letting Timmy on board, or (much later) Crow to Mike after he's just blown up his third planet.
  • Saturday Night Live:
    • Parodied by Norm MacDonald during a "Weekend Update" segment:
      "Stephen J. Hawkings, the renowned astrophysicist, regarded as Albert Einstein's intellectual successor, conceded defeat this week in a wager he made six years ago with two professors of the California Institute of Technology. Hawkings incorrectly bet against the existence of naked singularities: a mathematical point in a black hole where space and time are infinitely distorted, where matter is infinitely dense and where the rules of relativistic physics break down. With all due respect to Mr. Hawkings: what the hell were you thinking? I would have taken that bet, made a quick 20 bucks!"
    • And in another:
      "On Wednesday, world chess champion Gary Kasparov tied Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer that can examine two hundred million positions per second, in the fourth game of their six game series. Earlier in the week, Kasparov admitted he made a catastrophic blunder in game two when he failed to force a draw by moving rook to e8, opting instead for a Caro Kann defense that soon transposed into a Pribyl defense which, after Deep Blue moved bishop to e7, gave him the advantage with his ninth position. With all due respect to Mr. Kasparov... What the hell were you thinking?"

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Comes up quite a lot in WWE, either from skits backstage after a loss (or near-loss) because of a tag team partner, or when a commenter wonders what a high-flyer was thinking after attempting a high risk move successfully (or unsuccessfully) and losing the match.
  • Kane buried The Undertaker... again. He decided to hold a funeral in respect of him... and then Alberto Del Rio interrupted. Now, given that Alberto had only been on Smackdown for a few months, and Kane is a veteran who just took out The Undertaker, and that Alberto interrupted his "funeral" just to challenge Kane, the audience, Kane, and pretty much anyone else who may have been watching all exclaimed...
  • Some fans exclaim this when a promotion has a good angle or rivalry going and then proceeds to screw it up somewhere along the line. WWE tends to get this a lot. For example, dropping the US Title rematch of Daniel Bryan vs Sheamus from Wrestlemania 27, considering that they're two of WWE's most consistent workers and could have put on an awesome match.

  • 311 fits with "What was I Thinking", a somewhat heavy, short, and repetitive song where the singer is apparently in disbelief in something he said.
  • Folk singer Christine Lavin's song "What Was I Thinking", originally written in the late 1990s, features such examples as a poor choice of formal dress, hair style, and poor choice of White House intern.
  • "What Were You Thinking" by Country Music group Little Texas, a breakup song:
    What were you thinkin'
    When you turned your back and walked away
    Who do you think you're leavin'
    Did you think I'd let it end this way
    What were you thinkin'?
  • The music video for "What Was I Thinkin'" by Dierks Bentley opens with him taking Becky (played by Lauren Elaine) back home after a date. She asks if he would want to do it again, and though he is unsure, he reluctantly agrees. The next day, he is seen looking at pictures of the date he can't remember.

    Video Games 
  • Lance Vance says this in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City after a lackey's failed attempt to blow up a coffee shop leaves behind a veritable Orgy of Evidence.
  • In Max Payne 3, Max thinks about asking this of Giovanna and the now deceased Marcello, but stops and reminds himself that his long list of failures gives him no right to criticise.
  • In PAYDAY 2, Bain gets nervous when he realizes what the gang's stealing this time around.
    Bain: Vlad, smashing malls is one thing. Stealing tiaras is one thing. But nukes?!
  • Spyro says this to the Professor in Spyro: A Hero's Tail after the latter gets captured by Red and forced to transform Red's army into robots.
    Spyro: Professor, I finally found you! What were you thinking going after Red?
    Professor: I don't know! I thought I could stop him after you had weakened him!

    Visual Novels 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Cobra Kai: Johnny chews out Hawk for kicking Robby In the Back at the All-Valley Tournament, between rounds.
    Johnny: What the hell are you thinking, man?
    Hawk: What was I supposed to do, be a pussy?
  • There is actually an entire blog dedicated to asking this question about old comics. It's even titled What Were They Thinking?
  • Some editors in This Wiki tend to use this at times as a reaction... and Pothole it to this very page.

    Web Videos 
  • "What were they thinking!?" is one of The Angry Video Game Nerd's many catchphrases, used for an asinine flaw with a bad game.
  • During The Cinema Snob's crossover with Phelousnote :
    Phelous: Um... clothes... wrinkly...
    Cinema Snob: Doesn't look to terribly b-
    [he reaches out and touches the plugged in iron]
    Cinema Snob: OW! FFFUCK!
    Phelous: ...did you think would happen?
  • Mike Mozart of Jeepers Media uses this catchphrase when he comes across a toy with a... suggestive design flaw.

    Western Animation 
  • The Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "Total Re-Carl" involves Frylock trying to make Carl a new body after his original one gets liquefied by Frylock's Super Toilet. One of the options Frylock almost goes with is putting Carl's head on a lethal military robot, leading to this exchange:
    Frylock: I give you the ultimate in military hardware, complete with laser cannon, indestructible titanium exoskeleton, and motion-activated plasma pulse rifles.
    Shake: And you're gonna plug him in?!
    Frylock:'re right. Damn, what the hell was I thinking?
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Impulsive Anti-Villain Zuko frequently hears this from his uncle in response to his short-sighted plans. Notably in season 2, Zuko successfully manages to capture Appa with the Gaang none the wiser, only for Iroh to call him out on how, among other things, they've got no way to transport or contain the flying bison.
    Iroh: You never think these things through!
  • In Donkey Kong Country, Cranky Kong asks this of Donkey Kong when he learns that DK has given the Crystal Coconut to King K. Rool, being told to give up everything to know everything;
    DK: I wanted to know all the secrets...
    Cranky: So you gave the Coconut away to King K. Rool?! What were you thinking?!
  • Spoofed in the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Cry Ed", where, after Ed drops a house on Eddy in response to Eddy's scheme to get himself injured and gain sympathy, the following exchange occurs:
    Edd: Ed! What in heaven's name were you thinking?!
    Ed: Absolutely nothing, Double-Dee.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends:
    • "Mac Daddy": Bloo says this about Mac having apparently conjured up "Cheese". Mac's response: "Exactly, I wasn't thinking."
    • "World Wide Wabbit" has Frankie ask this to Bloo when he starts a website based on Herriman's embarrassing "funny bunny" video that got 20 million hits.
      Bloo: I just thought it was funny.
  • In Justice League, Hawkgirl chews out Fire for dropping Flash into the sea after Flash told her to do it so she could help Hawkgirl, reminding Fire that Flash can't fly. Fire feebly responds that she figured she could trust a founding member of the Justice League to have a plan, not knowing that Flash didn't have one. Fortunately, Flash was able to think of something in the nick of time. Hawkgirl immediately switched targets to Flash and furiously ordered him to never scare her like that again.
    • In "Doomsday Sanctum", Amanda Waller asks this of General Eiling when she learns he launched a Kryptonite-tipped nuclear warhead at the inhabited island that Superman and Doomsday were fighting on behind her back.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Maud Pie", Pinkie nearly gets killed by a dangerous obstacle course she sets up. After Maud saves her, she asks her this verbatim. Notably, it's one of the rare times Maud raises her voice.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Parodied in one episode:
      Marge: This is the worst thing you've ever done!
      Homer: You've said that so often the words have lost all meaning.
    • Apu gets an even more spectacular one:
      Skinner: Now I... I finally have time to do what I've always wanted: write the great American novel. Mine is about a futuristic amusement park where dinosaurs are brought to life through advanced cloning techniques. I call it "Billy and the Cloneasaurus."
      Apu: Oh, you have got to be kidding sir. First you think of an idea that has already been done. Then you give it a title that nobody could possibly like. Didn't you think this through... (timeskip fade) ... it was on the bestseller list for eighteen months! Every magazine cover had... (timeskip fade) ... one of the most popular movies of all time, sir! What were you thinking?! (pause) I mean, thank you, come again.
    • In "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes" Homer's stories land him on an island. An anti-escape orb tries to stop him from leaving but Homer simply pops it with a fork.
      Homer: Huh. That was easy! (continues on his merry way)
      (cut to the control room where Homer's escape is being monitored)
      Number 2: Why did you think a big balloon would stop people?
      Scientist: Shut up! That's why!
    • From "Radio Bart" where Lisa catches Bart pranking Springfield with a microphone-operated radio.
      Lisa: The police'll catch you sooner or later.
      Bart: The police? (laughs) They wouldn't catch a cold.
      Lisa: Maybe not, but I bet you're stupid enough to leave a "Property of Bart Simpson" on that radio.
      (the camera pans to the bottom of a well where Bart's radio indeed has a "Property of Bart Simpson" label)
      Bart: D'oh!
  • In the South Park episode "Ike's Wee Wee", Kyle decides to save his brother Ike from being circumcised by sending him on a train bound for Nebraska. He crafts a decoy made out of butcher shop bones in an effort to trick his parents into canceling the bris. A dog follows him home and attacks the Ike doll before getting hit by a tanker truck. While his parents mourn the supposed loss of their baby, Stan and even Cartman glare at Kyle for doing this.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man's Norman Osborn solidifies his Genre Savvy credentials by asking his son Harry this when he learned he had been drinking the Green Goblin serum.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "The Lost Mattress", Mr. Krabs is sent into a coma after the loss of his old mattress, which had all of his money stored in it. At the hospital, his gurney is parked in front of a vending machine until a nurse puts him outside. An administrator comes in and says this verbatim to the head doctor, who calls for the same nurse to take care of it... and she kicks Mr. Krabs down the hill.
  • Transformers:
    • Transformers: Animated: Megatron kidnaps Bulkhead to complete his space bridge, and Bulkhead is so sick of people assuming he can't do anything that he makes it work. When Professor Sumdac calls him on this, Bulkhead points out that Sumdac was the guy who rebuilt Megatron (although he had no idea about the evil tyrant thing).
    • This line often pops up verbatim in Transformers: Prime. Miko nearly got herself (and others) killed several time in the series premiere alone. Her friend Jack said the line word for word each time, until he got tired of repeating himself so much.

    Real Life 
  • A tattoo-removal parlor in Denver plays with this trope. It's named What Were You Inking?

You Let TV Tropes Ruin Your Life? What Were You Thinking?!